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Saturday, July 12, 2014

CARB's Optimistic Hydrogen Future

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has released the following projection:

They predict that plug-in vehicles will remain a niche product and that there will be more Hydrogen-powered cars on the road than battery electric cars by 2035.

As I have said before, predicting the future is hard and the only thing you can be sure of with detailed long term predictions is that you will be wrong.

Looking at the above chart, I started to wonder what would make me drive a H2 vehicle. I have no plans to ever buy an H2 car; I am an EV fan. After some contemplation, the answer to what would it take to make me consider a FCV was "if I could plug it in". A FCV that you can plug-in. They don't have a section on the above chart for Plug-in Hybrid Fuel Cell (PHFC?) vehicles or Plug-in Hydrogen Vehicle (PH2V?). Why not? What would a PHFC look like?

I would only buy a hydrogen-powered vehicle if I could plug it in.

How would you make a Plug-in Hydrogen Vehicle? The initial idea for the Chevy Volt was a design where the range extender could be any mobile electricity source. The architecture, now called Voltec, was initially called E-Flex for this very reason. Although the Voltec instantiation of E-Flex takes advantage of the internal combustion engine to optimize some cases, this is not a requirement of the E-Flex architecture. This means, with a few changes, the gas genset could be replaced with a fuel cell. So a Plug-in Hydrogen Vehicle is technically possible.

Assuming that North American had a complete Hydrogen refueling infrastructure (which is a big assumption); I could, one day in 2045, see myself considering a car that had 100 miles of electric range with a 200 to 300 mile H2 range extender.

I don't ever want to give up the advantage of being able to "refuel" in my garage.

There are several reasons that a (currently fictional) plug-in Hydrogen vehicle is far more appealing to me than a pure H2 vehicle.

With an adequate electric range, the PHFC car would be able to meet all the normal driving needs that I use my Leaf for today AND with the fast refueling range extender, I would be able to drive across the country if I so wanted.

Being able to "fill up" at home, is important to me. It is far more convenient than going to a filling station. Just plug in the car when you get home and it starts out every morning with a full charge. When charging at home, I know the source of the energy. I know how much energy my solar panels are producing, I know what green energy option I am paying for from the local utility. Whereas H2 will likely be natural gas sourced for many years.

The final reason that I would want all but the occasional road-trip to be electrically powered, is that it is far cheaper to drive on solar energy that I generate on my roof than anything I'll ever be able to buy at a filling station. Hydrogen is projected to be the per mile equivalent cost of about $4 per gallon gasoline. Depending on your local rates, driving a plug-in car is the equivalent of $1-$2 dollars per gallon. Off-peak charging can cut that in half. Installing solar panel that you own, can make it zero.

What Would Make Me Buy An H2 Vehicle
I have previously written that FCVs will never be viable. But, what would it take to get me to buy one?
  1. Continent-wide H2 refueling infrastructure
  2. A plug-in hybrid fuel cell vehicle with at least 80 miles of electric range
These seem simple, just two things: a car and someplace to fill it, but I am asking for an infrastructure system that would cost billions and a car that no one currently plans to build, as far as I know. Hey, I'll give them 30 years to complete these two nearly impossible tasks. In the meantime, I'll keep driving electric with only the occasional gas car use.